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Monteverdi: Vespro Della Beata Vergine
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Monteverdi: Vespers of the Blessed Virgin (2 CD's)
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John Eliot Gardiner's 1974 recording of Monteverdi's extraordinary Vespers of 1610 was a landmark, helping establish the modern reputations of both music and conductor. In 1989, to celebrate the silver anniversary of his Monteverdi Choir (named in honor of this work), he recorded the cycle again--this time live in the Basilica of San Marco in Venice. He made use of resources he didn't have 15 years earlier, like period instruments and, for soloists, a mix of early-music specialists (Ann Monoyios and Michael Chance) and opera singers (the young Bryn Terfel). As a bonus, he recorded both the standard version of the Magnificat for voices and instruments and Monteverdi's published alternative setting for six voices and organ. Gardiner gives a vigorous, theatrical, yet very detailed account of this music, caressing some phrases, thundering out others, using lots of carefully judged crescendos and decrescendos. On its terms, it works, thanks largely to the wondrous Monteverdi Choir, which can do anything asked of it. But there seems little of the sacred in the performance and almost nothing of the spontaneous or natural--the carefully calibrated effects can come across as overdetermined. In his booklet essay, Gardiner makes quite a point of his fidelity to the published score, yet he liberally adds instruments to double the voices, and he takes an odd liberty with the much-loved duet-trio "Duo seraphim": at the close of each half of the motet, at the words "plena est omnis terra," he has the tenors of his chorus take over from his soloists. If you're uncomfortable with that sort of thing, go for Andrew Parrott's marvelous one-singer-per-part performance or (for those who want a full chorus) for the version of William Christie or that of René Jacobs; if these additions don't faze you and you want a high-powered, adrenaline-rush performance, you'll find it here. --Matthew Westphal
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Official ceremonial music was crucial to the image of Venice especially in its declining years around the turn of the 17th century. The Basilica of St. Mark's was the religious and musical focal-point for the whole city, as well as being the Doge's private chapel.
Monteverdi's Vespers blazed a new trail. His was the first such publication to intersperse psalm and extra-liturgical motets and to include a setting of the appropriate Marian hymn. The work is divided into thirteen sections, the 'Magnificat' that is the last section is in seven parts, and included is an alternative, smaller-scale six-part setting for voices and organ.
Scholars have yet to determine exactly why Claudio Monteverdi wrote these magnificent Vespers, but one theory is that he used them as a kind of application to become music director of Saint Mark's in Venice. Going on this assumption, John Eliot Gardiner brought his own Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists to that hallowed cathedral for a miraculous live recording.
To mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Monteverdi Choir, two performances were conducted by Gardiner in May 1989, of this masterpiece, one private and the other public. The unique acoustics of Saint Mark's provides a shimmering, golden aura to the music-making and help to realize the crucial spatial effects Monteverdi wrote into the score.
The Vespers was a work of great daring that brought new expressive elements from secular forms like the madrigal and opera to sacred compositions. Never before had religious imagery been conveyed through music with such force. Take "Duo Seraphim" (the seventh movement) for example, where the echoing of the voices evokes the ethereal with sublime simplicity. This glorious music has never sounded more angelic.
I first purchased the DVD of this performance, and found it so exciting that I had to have the CD. It's a tremendously well-done and exciting rendition, just as one would expect from the Monteverdi Choir and Gardiner. His soloists are superb and add a great deal of excitement to the recording. I would like also to mention that the 'Magnificat' with six voices is not on the DVD, as it was recorded later in London,Tooting, All Saints church with the same group. The DVD has an excellent dissertation by Gardiner with scenes of Venice; a truly enjoyable visual as well as an audio treat.
If you are a lover of Monteverdi's music, then this recording and/or DVD is a MUST!
GRAMOPHONE CLASSICAL MUSIC GUIDE, 2010: "GARDINER'S RECORDING (OF THE VESPERS) SPECTACULARLY RECORDED LIVE IN ST.MARK'S HAS A PUNCHY CHORAL SOUND...EMPHATIC ENUNCIATION, BIG CONTRASTS AND DELIBERATE EXPLOITATION OF THE BUILDING'S SPACES. IT'S OUTRIGHT THEATRICALITY SETS IT APART FROM OTHER PERFORMANCES."
Thanks to all those that made it possible.
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